Paul, the Goddess Religions and Queers: Romans 1:23-28

I. Romans 1:23-28—GLB or Idolaters?.

Romans 1:26b: Heterogenital or Homogenital?.

Pericope in Three Parts: Is it Really All about Idolatry?.

II. Paul versus the Goddess.

Hermaphrodite Goddesses and Queer Priests.

Castration and Male Homogenitality.

Female Galli, Temple Prostitutes, and Phalli

III. Conclusion.



Romans 1:23-28 is one of the primary texts from the NT used to justify the contemporary condemnation of both male and female homosexuals by some religious groups and has been the source of significant recent discussion.  This paper seeks to recontextualize the passage as a unified attack on idolatry by identifying the subjects of the “gay” and “lesbian” behavior[1] in Rom 1:26-27 as participants in the goddess cults that were widespread in Paul’s time and posed a direct threat to Paul’s ministry.  These individuals violated patriarchal norms of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality in very public ways, as well as contemporary heteronormativity, and so I refer to them using the postmodern term “queer.”[2] 

Several lines of research converge to allow an interpretation that rejects the assumption that Paul is here condemning “gays” or “lesbians”: 1) the dubious hypothesis that “gay”/“lesbian”/“straight” existed in this Greco-Roman-Jewish context (which I will not here address directly, since it has been adequately addressed elsewhere); 2) the rejection of the assumption that 1:26b must refer to female homogenitality; 3) it has been demonstrated that the syntactic connection between the females in 1:26 and the males in 1:27 does not necessarily imply a relationship in the “identity” of these subjects (i.e., female homosexuals and male homosexuals), but rather in action (i.e, a common exchange of the natural); 4) the natural vs. unnatural behaviors (παρὰ φύσιν) likely do not refer to an exchange of the identity categories “straight” for “gay”, but to non-procreative sex in general (or perhaps an inversion of patriarchal social hierarchy); 5) the structural and rhetorical unity of the passage seem mismatched if one assumes the dominant interpretation regarding “gays” and “lesbians” as archetypal sins followed by a “more minor” list of sins that includes, for example, murder; and 6) the socio-historical-religious context witnessed the wide growth and acceptance of goddess cults whose cross-gender practices violated the patriarchal norms of masculinity and femininity and would have provided Paul with a graphic object lesson to refer the audience back to non-Yahwistic cults.


I. Romans 1:23-28—GLB or Idolaters?

(1) 23 and [they] changed (ἤλλαξαν) the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of fowls, and of quadrupeds, and of reptiles.  24 Wherefore also God did give them up (παρέδωκεν), in the desires of their hearts, to uncleanness, to dishonour their bodies among themselves;


(2) 25who did change (μετήλλαξαν) the truth of God into a falsehood, and did honour and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed to the ages. Amen.  26 Because of this did God give them up (παρέδωκεν) to dishonourable affections,


(3) for even their females (θήλειαι αὐτῶν) did change (μετήλλαξαν) the natural use (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) into that against nature (παρὰ φύσιν); 27 and in like manner (ὁμοίως) also the males having left the natural use (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) of the female, did burn in their longing toward one another… 28 And, according as (και καθος) they did not approve of having God in knowledge, God gave them up (παρέδωκεν) to a disapproved mind, to do (ποιεῖν) the things not seemly. [3]



Romans 1:26b: Heterogenital or Homogenital?


Romans 1:26b is the only passage in the Old or New Testaments that has been interpreted to refer to female homosexuality.  However, this has not always been the interpretation of this passage[4].  Some early church leaders interpreted this passage to refer not to female homogenitality, but to non-procreative, heterosexual acts. Clement of Alexandria is one example.  In “Discussion on Procreation” (Paedagogus 10) he explains that due to excessive lusts,[5] the hare grows a new rectum every year due to heavy sexual use, and both male and female hyenas develop a special passage (non-vaginal, non-anal) for sexual penetration.  In the latter case, Clement believes that this explains why conception is rare among hyenas: sperm is diverted from the passage designed for pregnancy, and thus παρὰ φύσιν (“contrary to nature,” 86.1).  Clement then ties this discussion directly back to Paul by quoting Rom 1:26-27 (86.3), concluding his discussion with the following (87.3):

It is clear that we should reject sex between men, sex with the infertile, anal sex with women, and sex with the androgynous.  We should obey nature’s prohibition through the genital structure—real men discharge semen, not receive it.   As Jeremiah said… “The hyena’s cave has become my home,” … as a skilled allegory condemning idolatry.[6]


Two points are relevant here.  First, Clement’s concern about sex contrary to nature assumes that sperm is being wasted, therefore it would seem that a man must be involved in this specific παρὰ φύσιν act—contrary to the contemporary assumption that Rom 1:26b refers to two women. Second, through the reference to Jeremiah, he ties the entire discussion back to idolatry.  Further, as I will demonstrate, the entire context of Rom 1:23-28 is about idolatry, and the sexual references specifically oriented the original reader to the sacred sex practices of the goddess cults.  This alsos help explain Clement’s reference to sex with the androgynous, representing a typical early characterization of their castrated and effeminate male priests, the galli.  Brooten quotes an early Christian commentator on Clement, Anastasios, further strengthening this position.  In a marginal note on the above passage, he explicitly dismisses the view that Paul was describing female homogenital (“lesbian”) acts, specifying the women were not going to each other, but would “offer themselves to men.”[7]  

Similarly, Augustine seems to hold a non-homogenital view of this passage, describing this context as non-procreative, heterogenital intercourse.

In the apostle’s words concerning the wicked, Having abandoned natural relations with a woman, they burned in their desires for one another, men treating men shamefully (Rom 1:27), he did not speak of marital, but natural relations.  He meant for us to understand those relations which are brought about by the members created for this purpose so that both sexes can be joined by them in order to beget children.  For this reason, when anyone is united by these same members even to a prostitute, the relations are natural, though they are not praiseworthy, but sinful.  But if one has relations even with one’s wife in a part of the body which was not made for begetting children, such relations are against nature and indecent.  In fact, the same apostle earlier said the same thing about the women, For their women exchanged natural relations for those which are against nature (Rom 1:26). [8]


Slightly predating Augustine, Didymus the Blind, provides yet another question to the assumption of homogenitality in Rom 1:26b.[9]  In his commentary on Zechariah he twice quotes Romans 1:26-27, in both instances using it as an example of what happens to idolaters (152, 262). In one of these he expands on Paul’s quote:

those who did not see fit to acknowledge God and were given up to a debased mind are guilty of improper behavior, having lustful desires for one another, males committing shameless acts with males, females exchanging the intercourse natural to females for unnatural, and women having lewd desires for women.[10]


The question pertinent here, is why Didymus would add the clarifying note that “women were having lewd desires for women,” if this was already implied by “females exchanging the intercourse natural to females for unnatural”?  It is reasonable to assume that Didymus felt the clarification necessary only if he had no reason to believe Paul’s original female reference was about female homogenitality.  He therefore added what he felt Paul had mistakenly failed to include in his original condemnation of deviant sex.

Another problem when trying to understand Romans 1 is Paul’s intent for παρὰ φύσιν in 1:26b. For example, the behavior could (outside of the context of this passage) refer to sex with a barren or pregnant woman, sex with a menstruating woman, pederasty or sex between animals of different species, since it meant exchanging the procreative purpose of sex for behaviors that could not produce children.[11]  Philo, speaking as a Jewish contemporary to Paul, “condemns men who knowingly marry barren women . . . thereby destroying their seeds. . . . These men are like pigs or goats, and are thus antagonists of God and enemies of nature.”[12]  Similarly, regarding pederasty, he says that the active partner (the penetrating male) is παρὰ φύσιν because he “does not procreate.” In Rom 1:26-27, Paul uses παρὰ φύσιν in the verse that involves at least one female.  Since the cultural usage of the phrase in a sexual context typically indicates that a male was engaging in a behavior that prevented conception, it seems most likely that Paul is referring to some type of heterogenital sex that prevented procreation, such as anal or oral sex between a man and a woman.  Several analyses of παρὰ φύσιν support this position.[13]  Similarly, Fredrickson’s analysis of χρῆσις (“use”) finds no examples of females “using” another female, while he does find a “wife’s use of the husband,” which he believes is the reference here.[14]

McNeill, Boswell and Nissinen argue that παρὰ φύσιν refers to inherent “heterosexuals” who dabble in same-sex sexualities.[15]  However, if this were true, it leaves the contemporary reader having to judge an individual’s sexual behavior based on determining their “true” heterosexual or homosexual nature.  This position ignores the profoundly social nature and fluidity of the sexualities, if not stigmatizing bisexuality as much as previous authors have stigmatized homosexuality.[16]  Others emphasize that παρὰ φύσιν refers to patriarchal social inversion, that the “man who acts like a woman” and the “woman who acts like a man” threatened Roman constructions of masculinity and thus society as a whole.[17]  There is no necessary contradiction between this view and the perspective offered here, that Rom 1:26b-27 is a specific example of the queer identities and sexual practices in the goddess cults.  They may, in fact, supplement one another, for example, when Swancutt describes Roman virulence against Cybele and her effeminate, eunuch priests in terms of a violation of the perceived threat they posed to Roman masculinity and political stability.[18]  In the social milieu of this threat, Paul and his readers may have been particularly sensitized to the goddess cults because of the intersection of these two important values--idolatry and patriarchy--thus potentially clarifying Paul’s use in 1:26b-27 as a highlighted example

Returning to the question of 1:26b as a reference to female homogenitality, Banister analyzes the connecting clause between Rom 1:26-27, ὁμοίως (“likewise”), and determines that this connector does not imply that 1:27 should be used to limit the meaning of 1:26.[19]  Even though two men are involved in the clause following ὁμοίως, the word does not lead to the conclusion that the clause preceding it will involve two women, only that both clauses are examples of some larger idea, in this case, that some kind of natural use was being exchanged (1:26b) or abandoned (1:27) for something else.  In this case, Banister suggests as possibilities, that a woman could be using an ὄλισβος (phallus) on herself, a woman could be using an ὄλισβος with a man, or that the men were having oral or anal sex with the women.[20]  Swancutt comes to the same conclusion, explaining that if ὁμοίως here follows other usages in the NT, that it indicates that “the important connection between Rom 1:26 and 27 is the action, the ‘exchange/forsaking of the natural use for what is contrary to nature,’” (italics mine) and ὁμοίως is not intended to show similarity between the subjects of the two sentences, thus making it unlikely that the intended audience would have heard this as a reference to “lesbians.”[21]

If one assumes that 1:26b is a reference to female homogenitality, the question persists why Paul would bother to mention it, and especially preceding male sex, when female sex is rarely mentioned in ancient literature, and not at all in the OT.  The Judaic traditions, with which Paul was clearly familiar,[22] has vanishingly little discussion of female homogenitality.[23]  Some propose that female homogenitality was so monstrous that it was worse than male homogenitality, so deserved both mention and priority,[24] while others instead note Paul’s “strikingly egalitarian” perspective that he would mention it at all.[25] However, with a heterogenital reading the reference seems less striking, since the more common discourse about males/female sex, here παρὰ φύσιν, becomes the logically prioritized clause.  Regarding θήλειαι αὐτῶν (“their females”),[26] who were engaging in sex παρὰ φύσιν, Jewett notes the “chauvinism or procreational preoccupation” in the possessive form.[27]  Sayler believes that “their females” refers to “wives and daughters of Gentile men,” although since she assumes the traditional homogenital reading of 1:26b, she does not draw the intuitive conclusion that those wives are asking their husbands to perform παρὰ φύσιν sex on them, rather than doing it to each other.[28] 

If this passage about sexual deviance is targeting non-Yahwistic worship, rather than sex itself, it would not be anomalous.  The association between idolatry and sex was common in early Jewish and Christian sources.[29]  As will be described later, the OT has specific references to male temple prostitutes in conjunction with non-Israelite worship.  In the Wisdom of Solomon, we find similar references to those made by Paul in Romans 1, clarifying the literary background from which Paul was most certainly writing, which I argue would have starkly drawn the first century mind to the goddess religions:[30]

For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication…  It was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but they live in great strife due to ignorance, and they call such great evils peace.  For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, …  all is a raging riot of … pollution of souls, sex perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery.  (Wis 14:12-31, RSV)


We see this again in the Apocalypse of Peter (2nd century CE), also quite similar to Romans 1, where the author describes the punishment for those who have sex in the context of idol worship—men with men, and some kind of relationship between men and women, but absent is any clear reference to relationships between women.[31] 

These are the worshippers of idols... These are they which have cut their flesh as apostles of a man, and the women who were with them . . . and thus are the men who defiled themselves with one another in the fashion of women. ...  All idols, the works of men's hands, and what resembles the images of cats and lions, of reptiles and wild beasts, and the men and women who manufactured the images, shall be in chains of fire. [32]

Assuming a similar literary tradition to Romans 1, we again see problematized the assumption that the women in such literary contexts are lesbians.  We also see here a practice related to the Attic/Cybele rituals that will be described later, specifically, ritual castration (“cut their flesh as apostles”). 


Pericope in Three Parts: Is it Really All about Idolatry?

            The structure of Rom 1:23-32 is the use of the μετ/ήλλαξαν ("they exchanged": 1:23, 1:25, 1:26b) and παρέδωκεν  ("God gave them over": 1:24, 1:26a, 1:28), [33] which enclose three parallel thoughts between 1:23-28. Parallelism is common in Hebrew literature, and involves repeating a thought in a different way for emphasis.  Paul was familiar with this device, and it seems clear that he is using this technique here to emphasize God's wrath against idolatry.[34]  Paul describes people engaged in philosophies and religions that tried to understand and worship creation apart from Yahweh.  He concludes that abandoning the concept of God leads to the “sin list” in the last verses of the chapter (1:29-31).  In this sense, the focus of the chapter is on those who μετ/ήλλαξαν the worship of Yahweh for the worship of physical idols.[35]  Both of the first two parallel passages (1:23-24, 1:25-26a), bracketed by μετ/ήλλαξαν and παρέδωκεν, explicitly describe physical idol worship as it would have been found in the first century.

            The third parallel is similarly bracketed with μετ/ήλλαξαν and παρέδωκεν, but does not quite follow the pattern of the first two. As in the first two, God gives them over to wicked behavior (1:28). However, in the third part, sex is exchanged for the worship of Yahweh rather than explicit idol worship.  If one proposes that the exchanges in 1:23 and 1:25 are metaphors for anything that draw us away from God, then the sex described in 1:26b-27 could describe general homogenitality (if one assumes a priori that homogenitality necessarily causes one to abandon the belief in God).  However, the text does not lend itself to such a metaphorical interpretation, since the texts are so concrete in their description of ritualistic idolatry.  To preserve the symmetry inherent in the parallelism, the third parallel should also be read as a specific reference to ritualistic idolatry.  “Sacred sex” was a common practice of certain religions in the first century, including homogenitality, and male-female παρὰ φύσιν sex.[36]

A potential counter-argument is that only the first two clauses represent parallels about idolatry, but that Paul turns his focus away from simple idolatry to all sinful behavior, and that homosexuality represents an archetype sin. The argument continues that Paul finishes his thought in 1:29-31, providing a larger “list” of sins,[37] of which homosexuality is merely the first, separated by 1:28, a description of what God has to do when confronted with unrepentant sinners. However, the grammar of the passage makes questionable that interpretation, for two reasons.  First, και καθος (“since”, 1:28) takes a causal meaning,[38] separating the previous discussion from the discussion that follows it, making the homogenital behavior listed in 1:26b-28 part of a different clause than the sin list in 1:29-32.  Second, Chamberlain describes ποιεῖν ('to do') as the epexegetical infinitive, used here to clarify what precedes it (1:23-27) by way of the example that follows it (1:29-32). [39]  Again, we see a clear separation between the sex acts and the sin list.  This yields the following rough paraphrase (mine) of 1:28:

And because of the fact that (και καθος) they stopped believing in God, doing all of the things listed in 1:23-27, God surrendered them (παρέδωκεν) to do (ποιεῖν) the evil things listed in the following verses…


In the first two parallels God gives them over to evil behaviors because of actions they took (“changing the glory of God into an image,”[40] and then worshipping and serving created things rather than the creator). However, God did not give them over because of the exchange itself, but because of actions taken as a result of the exchange (in the second parallel, they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, but the resulting action is that they "worshipped and served created things"). In the third parallel, they exchanged the φυσικὴν χρῆσιν (“natural use”) for that which is παρὰ φύσιν as described in 1:26b-27. However, it was not those exchanges that caused God to give them over. Those exchanges resulted in the action of 1:28, “they did not think it worthwhile to retain a knowledge of God,” which is what caused God to give them over--not the sexual behavior, but the fact that they abandoned their belief in God.  The ritualized sexual behavior was a key part of the process of their rejection of their belief in God, just as making idols and worshipping/serving idols was a key part of the process in 1:23-26a.  Parsing cause and result in this passage demonstrates that the sex acts must be separate entities from the sin-list and therefore are intended to be interpreted in the context of the three-clause, μετ/ήλλαξαν /παρέδωκεν parallel, not part of the sin-list itself.   



II. Paul versus the Goddess

The religion of the mother goddess, the great mother (Magna Mater), is one of the oldest recorded religions, dating at least to 6000 BCE.  A terracotta figurine from this era, found at Catal Huyuk, in modern-day Turkey, shows the Mother sitting on her throne between two large cats.[41]  This religion was in Asia Minor by at least the seventh century BCE,[42] in Greece by the 5th or early 4th century,[43] and its official entry into Rome was on April 6, 204 BCE.[44]  According to tradition, the Sibylline books instructed the Roman government to bring the “Mother of Mount Ida” to Rome if they wanted to defeat Hannibal, [45] while a minor earthquake convinced King Attalus to release the goddess to them[46] in the form of a small black meteorite.[47]  The temple dedicated to Cybele on Palatine Hill was completed in 191 BC.[48]

The importance of the goddess religions in the Greco-Roman period cannot be underestimated.[49]  During Paul’s missionary travels, the goddess religions were having a wide resurgence, and Fear notes that while "mystery religions in general were not a focus of Christian polemic, Attis and Cybele on the other hand appear to have been a favorite target for the invective of Christian writers."[50]  Temples dedicated to Cybele/Attis, Artemis, Aphrodite, Demeter and Venus were in most large cities of the region.  The temple to Artemis in Ephesus was claimed to be the largest building in the world and one of the Seven Wonders, and as will be described later, Acts 19 describes a conflict between Paul and the followers of Artemis in Ephesus.[51]  Strabo (somewhat dubiously) claimed that the temple to Aphrodite in Corinth had more than 1,000 temple prostitutes and it was this business that made the city rich.[52]  In Rome, the Cybele/Attis temple was built in the heart of the city on one of the Seven Hills of Rome (the Roman temple to another goddess, Aphrodite, was on another of these hills[53]) and the official sanctions that had prevented citizens from fully participating in the priestly rituals were lifted in the mid-first century.[54]  In addition, Cybele’s image was printed on some Roman coins, two major city festivals, the Day of Blood and the Megalensia, were organized around Cybele and Attis, and a statue of Cybele presided over the public games.[55]  Roller describes the worship of Cybele as central to Roman life:

By the first century CE, the Magna Mater was thus a divinity with a central place in Roman life.  And the place of honor created for her cult in the first two centuries of its existence in Rome continued under the early Empire. The prominence of the Magna Mater in literature, art, and practice speaks of a cult that lay at the very center of the Roman religious experience.  Her temple was located in the heart of the city, near its most venerable shrines. [56]


Hermaphrodite Goddesses and Queer Priests

There are similarities in the practices and beliefs between the goddess cults,[57] as well as a popular blending of goddess identities, as described by Apuleius:

Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all many of different rites, yet the whole round earth venerates me.  The primeval Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, Mother of the gods; the Athenians, sprung from their own soil, call me Cecropian Artemis; for the islanders of Cyprus I am Paphian Aphrodite; for the archers of Crete I am Dictynna; for the trilingual Sicilians, Stygian Proserpine; and for the Eleusians their ancient Mother of the Corn.  Some know me as Juno, some as Bellona of the Battles; others as Hecate, others again as Rhamnubia, but both races of Aethiopians, whose lands the morning sun first shines upon, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship me with ceremonies proper to my godhead, call me by my true name, namely, Queen Isis.[58]

Venus/Aphrodite was brought to Rome shortly before Cybele.  According to Macrobius, Aphrodite was an hermaphroditic god/dess. 

Moreover, there is in Cyprus a bearded statue of the goddess with female clothing but with male attributes, so that it would seem that the deity is both male and female. Aristophanes also calls her "Aphroditus"; and in Laevinus the descriptive adjective is in the masculine gender, when he says: "Therefore worshipping Venus the giver of life (almum), whether the deity is female or male--even as is the life-giving deity that shines by night." Philochorus, too, in his Atthis says that Venus is the moon and that men offer sacrifice to the moon dressed as women, and women dressed as men, because the moon is thought to be both male and female. [59]


Artemis is another goddess with similarities to Cybele, in worship, history and ideology.[60]  Acts 19 describes the economic, political and social power of Artemis in Paul's encounter with her followers Ephesus.  After a silversmith convinces his fellow-tradesmen that Paul's teachings pose a risk to their trade and that Paul is blaspheming Artemis, they start a riot, shouting "Great is Artemis" (Acts 19:28, 34).  Eventually, the city-clerk calms the crowd, exclaiming, "Men of Ephesus, does not all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?" (Acts 19:35). 

            Like Cybele’s priests, Artemis priests were also frequently eunuchs, described as effeminate, and were sexually penetrated, violating the strict patriarchal ideals for masculinity found in early Rome.[61]  These are common themes found in goddess priests across time and culture.  The history between the goddess religions and gender-variant priests goes back at least as far as the Sumerians in the 3rd millennium BCE,[62] appearing in temple records as the gala/kalu priest in relation to the goddess Innana.  Anal sex in their rituals appears to be clear from the following epithet:  "When the gala/kalu wiped his anus [he said], 'I must not excite that which belongs to my lady Innana.'"[63]  Likely not coincidence, the word-sign for gala are the combined signs for penis + anus.

            The goddess Innana in later cultures was called Ishtar, notoriously promiscuous and at times engaging in transvestitism.[64]  Ishtar similarly demands gender-variant priests, assinu (male), assinutum (female),[65] kurgurrutu,[66] or galatur.[67]  The assinu were castrated, about whom it was said that Ishtar, to show her mighty power, had changed the priests' gender forever.[68]  The assinu, engaged in cross-gender behaviors, and had sexual roles in worship.[69]  Roscoe notes that "Akkadian omen texts instruct men to have intercourse with assinu to obtain luck and refers to the desire of assinu for intercourse with men."[70]  The assinitu were discussed in the context of Ishtar's female priests (harimtu, kezertu, sekretu, samhatu), who were expected to engage in anal sex acts with worshipers so as to prevent pregnancy--they were consecrated to the goddess as naditu, or 'barren'.[71] 

            Multiple texts describe the cross-dressing and effeminate image of the Greco-Roman goddess priests,[72] as well as the annual-festival activities of the galli, the Cybele/Attis priests.  Initially the Romans had difficulty accepting the galli’s gender violations, as patriarchal masculinity was core to the politico-cultural hegemony.  Roman citizens were prohibited from becoming galli, primarily because of their repulsion of emasculation, until 101 BCE when the laws were altered to allow certain citizens to become galli, and finally around 50 CE, “Claudius removed all restrictions preventing citizens from becoming galli.[73]  Eventually, the head of the galli, the Archgallus, became a state-appointed position,[74] and the galli's primary festival, the Day of Blood, was incorporated into the public religious calendar[75] along with Cybele’s Megalensia, which then became a multi-week event.

            The galli would wander in the streets in full cross-dress regalia: amulets, flowing robes, make-up, depilated bodies and long hair dyed blond.  They would dance in a Bacchalic frenzy with tambourines and flutes, often with knives or swords, with which they would cut their arms, shedding blood to help them tell the fortunes of the people who would give them money.[76]  These practices continued at least to the 4th century.  Firmicus and Augustine, both of whom attack the competing religion, describe some of their theology, temple practices, festivals.  Firmicus’ account is as follows:

Tell me, is air a divinity if it looks for a woman in a man, if its band of priests can minister to it only when they have feminized their faces, rubbed smooth their skin, and disgraced their manly sex by donning women's regalia?  In their very temples one may see scandalous performances, accompanied by the moaning of the throng: men letting themselves be handled as women, and flaunting with boastful ostentatiousness this ignominy of their impure and unchaste bodies.  They parade their misdeeds in the public eye, acknowledging with superlative relish in filthiness the dishonor of their polluted bodies.  They nurse their tresses and pretty them up woman-fashion; they dress in soft garments; they can hardly hold their head erect on their languid necks.  Next, being thus divorced from masculinity, they get intoxicated with the music of flutes and invoke their goddess to fill them with an unholy spirit so that they can ostensibly predict the future to fools.  What sort of monstrous and unnatural thing is all this?  They say they are not men, and indeed they aren't; they want to pass as women, but whatever the nature of their bodies is, it tells a different story. [77]


Augustine's account is similar, mentioning also castration:

There are the rites of the Mother of the gods where the beautiful youth Attis, loved by her and castrated because of a woman's jealousy, is mourned by those unfortunate men called Galli who are also castrated… The rites which are enacted by castrated and effeminate men are indeed performed in secret; but our adversaries have certainly not been able to conceal the men themselves, so miserably emasculated and corrupted. [78]


Other Christian and non-Christian sources alike describe the roaming priests similarly.[79]  In addition to the frenzied, effeminate behavior, other practices of the galli are consistent: castration, same-sex sex, and the presence of female galli, often paired with phalli and anal sex.  Each of these deserves a separate treatment.


Castration and Male Homogenitality

            The documentary record indicates that male priests of many goddess religions made themselves into eunuchs, and that in fact, it was an important aspect of their religious practice.[80] Several sources provide descriptions of the castrated galli as well as the Bacchalic frenzy associated with the castration ritual.[81]  Here, two typical texts characterize these practices, one Latin and one Greek.  By the time of Lucian (2nd CE), the rituals had long since become part of the official Roman religious calendar, occurring on the Day of Blood.

During these days they are made Galli. As the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on many of them and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I will narrate what they do. Any young man who has resolved on this action, strips off his clothes, and with a loud shout bursts into the midst of the crowd, and picks up a sword from a number of swords which I suppose have been kept ready for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself and then runs wild through the city, bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women's raiment and ornaments. Thus they act during their ceremonies of castration. [82]


The second description, from Lucretius (1st century BCE), comes long before the ritual had gained official acceptance, but sounds little different from the first.  The geographical and chronological distance between these two authors may attest to the longevity and widespread knowledge of the galli and their practices.

To her [the Idean Mother] do they assign the Galli, the emasculate, since thus they wish to show that men who violate the majesty of the mother and have proved ingrate to parents are to be judged unfit to give unto the shores of light a living progeny. The Galli come: and hollow cymbals, tight-skinned tambourines resound around to bangings of their hands; The fierce horns threaten with a raucous bray; The tubed pipe excites their maddened minds in Phrygian measures; they bear before them knives, wild emblems of their frenzy, which have power the rabble's ingrate heads and impious hearts to panic with terror of the goddess' might. [83]


            The act of self-castration helped the gallus transcend gender.  One faction of the Gnostic movement, the Naassenes, expresses this idea, linking it to early Christian thought.  The Naassenes, "while equally regarding the Logos [Jesus] as the centre of their belief, held the equivalent deity to be Attis, and frequented the Phrygian Mysteries as the most direct source of spiritual enlightenment."[84]  Kroeger dates this Christo-Naassene sect to the first century CE, and links it and the transgender theology to the galli practices: “There is considerable evidence that the Naassene sect developed from that of Attis of Cybele."[85]

            Hippolytus, a Christian apologist from the late 2nd century, attacks the Naassenes and their hermaphroditic practices and gender-deviant beliefs.  Such beliefs are described in the Logia, sayings the Gnostics claim are attributable to Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas describes the basis for the Naassene belief in the desirability of transcending gender: "…when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female... then you will enter [the <Father’s> domain]" (brackets in the original, Saying 22).[86]  It is this and other teachings that Hippolytus directly critiques, and in the process links the Cybele/Rhea and Attis religion to Romans 1:

For (the Naassene) says, there is the hermaphrodite man, … [and] Attis has been emasculated, that is, he has passed over from the earthly parts of the nether world to the everlasting substance above, where, he says, there is neither female or male, but a new creature, a new man, which is hermaphrodite. As to where, however, they use the expression "above," I shall show when I come to the proper place (for treating this subject). But they assert that, by their account, they testify that Rhea is not absolutely isolated, but--for so I may say--the universal creature; and this they declare to be what is affirmed by the Word. Wherefore also God gave them up unto vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature." What, however, the natural use is, according to them, we shall afterwards declare. "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly."…  For in these words which Paul has spoken they say the entire secret of theirs, and a hidden mystery of blessed pleasure, are comprised. [87]


In Romans 1, what many contemporary Christians see as a condemnation of homosexuality, the Naassenes saw as a blessing, in as much as it helped them to transcend gender, and thus become closer to God.  The Naassenes, at least, viewed the context of Paul's intent for the description of the sexual activity in Romans 1 as sacred sex, connected with the sexual practices of the galli.  Equally as important to the early Christian polemicists, the practice of self-castration was not limited to the Gnostic factions of Christianity, but became an issue for many Christian men, who, in their attempts to wholly dedicate themselves to their faith, believed they must become “eunuchs because of the reign of the heavens” (Matt 19:12, YLT) and drew inspiration from the practices of the goddess religions to castrate themselves.[88]

            In addition to castration and transgender theology, several of the goddess religions made sex an integral part of their worship,[89] all practices still seen today in the Indian devadasi system.[90]  Such are seen in the OT references to qadosh (translated "male shrine prostitutes" in 1 Kings 15:12 and 2 Kings 23:7, NIV).  That the Old and New Testaments recognize and condemn sacred sex is clear.  That Greek and Roman society condemned sacred sex, even sacred homogenitality, is far from clear, and is probably mistaken.  In fact, it seems that ritualized sacred homoeroticism "experienced a kind of renaissance between the fourth century BCE and the third century CE."[91]  In this form of worship, it seems that the worshiper "receives the inner-most essence and power of a god."[92]  The galli, for their part in the homogenital act, live out the sexual/gender variance of Attis and Cybele, as well as transcend gender, to become more like their gods.  Or in contemporary sociological language, they are able to find a survival niche in a patriarchal structure that stigmatized their queer identity, and perhaps for women, finding a place to engage in self-efficacy and authenticity.[93]

            That the galli participated in homogenital acts is indisputable.  From the documentary evidence, the gala/kalu provide an example (as described above),[94] as well as descriptions of the galli from Roman and Greek texts.[95]  Apuleius (2nd century CE) tells an archetypical story of the galli, here describing a traveling band of priests of the Goddess:

The eunuch, whose name was Philebus, led me off to his lodgings.  When he reached the door he called out: "Look, girls, Look!  I have brought you a lovely new man-servant!"  The girls were a set of disgusting young eunuch priests who broke into falsetto screams and hysterical giggles of joy, thinking that Philebus really meant what he said, and that they would now have a fine time with me...  This queer family included one real man, a great big slave, whome they had bought with money collected by begging.  When they went out, leading the Goddess in procession, he would walk in front playing a horn--he played extremely well--and at home they used in him all sorts of ways, especially in bed. [96]


Female Galli, Temple Prostitutes, and Phalli

            In addition to the gender-variant males, female galli, ἱεροδούλους (temple prostitutes/slaves) and sacerdos (priestess), are associated with the mother goddess.  Vermaseren notes that

many priestesses (sacerdos; 'iereteuousa) of the cult are known.  Their choice, too, had to be sanctioned by the quindecimviri.  The title of sacerdos maxima, which occurs in Rome, suggests a certain hierarchy. ... They supervised the inferior members of the staff and they carried the sacred vessels (cernophorae), or acted as mourners (praeficae) during the days of mourning in March. [97]


Sawyer concurs: "Women in particular would have enjoyed the freedom that such a religion offered them as an alternative to the rigid, patriarchal structures Roman society imposed on them."[98]  Showerman notes, "The ministers of ordinary rank were sometimes men, sometimes women, the former being the castrated galli."[99]

            Roller describes a Greek text from Lesbos on the modesty of women, limiting access to a sacred temenos by certain persons: "women who have recently given birth, galli, and women who γαλλαζειν --that is, hold Gallic rites to Meter."[100]  This text adds to the evidence that women could also be galli.  Further, since Aphrodite was the patron of both ἱεροδούλους and secular prostitutes,[101] it helps explain why they are closely associated with her temples.  As already mentioned, ἱεροδούλους were associated with the temples of Aphrodite/Venus in Rome[102] and Artemis in Ephesus.[103]  The rituals associated with these temples were often orgiastic, and "their votaries were women and eunuchs"[104]

            Clement describes the practices of some of the female galli, pairing them with these stereotyped images of the male galli that we have discussed:

And these women are carried about over the temples, sacrificing and practicing divination day by day, spending their time with fortune-tellers, and begging priests, and disreputable old women; and they keep up old wives' whisperings over their cups, learning charms and incantations from soothsayers, to the ruin of the nuptial bonds. And some men they keep; by others they are kept; and others are promised them by the diviners. They know not that they are cheating themselves, and giving up themselves as a vessel of pleasure to those that wish to indulge in wantonness; and exchanging their purity for the foulest outrage, they think what is the most shameful ruin a great stroke of business. And there are many ministers to this meretricious licentiousness.  ... But these women delight in intercourse with the effeminate [κιναίδων].[105] And crowds of abominable creatures flow in, of unbridled tongue, filthy in body, filthy in language; men enough for lewd offices, ministers of adultery, giggling and whispering. [106]


In addition to showing the presence of female galli, Clement also describes a surprising practice: the women were having sex with the κίναιδοι --in an oversimplified sense, these are effeminate men who enjoy being sexually penetrated.[107]  These may or may not have been the male galli.  While most galli were κίναιδοι, it cannot similarly be concluded that most κίναιδοι were galli, since most persons who engaged in homogenitality were not priests of Cybele and Attis.

            Regardless of whether these κίναιδοι were galli, it begs the question of why a κίναιδος would go to a female to have sex, and what form that sex would take.  Three primary possibilities emerge.  First, these κίναιδοι may have been sexually penetrating the women, contrary to cultural expectations of the κίναιδοι as well as the contextual inferences.  The second possibility is that the men were instead performing oral sex on the women.[108]  The third possibility is that the women were using an ὄλισβος (“dildo”) to perform anal sex on the men.  In each of these, there is a dramatic gender-reversal taking place.  In the first case, the roles of the sexual partners are reversed from what the Judeo-Christian/Greco-Roman cultures expected: passive women (the penetrated) and aggressive men (the penetrators) are here replaced with sexually aggressive women (the ἱεροδούλους) and the effeminate men (the κίναιδοι).[109]  In the second case, if the male performs oral sex on the woman, such behavior would still put the male in the passive condition of fellare, and the woman in the active condition of irrumare.[110]  Such a reversal would similarly constitute a breach of expected gender roles for any respectable Roman or Greek, for both the man and woman.  Finally, the same gender-reversals are present with the possibility that the woman used an ὄλισβος or φαλλός to engage in pedicare, and the man allowed himself to be cevare.  Either case would constitute behavior that was παρὰ φύσιν, since none created procreative possibilities, and each reversed expected gender roles.

            The latter interpretation of the behavior of the temple ἱεροδούλους is supported by several texts that associate the goddess temples with phalli.  The goddess Diana was honored in the kordax: "a dance-drama in which women and men dressed in the garments of the opposite sex, the women, wearing lombai, 'enormous phalli,' pretended to penetrate the male dancers."[111]  In another text by Clement, he mentions the galli of Aphrodite, who give a phallus to the initiates:

Of members so lewd a worthy fruit--Aphrodite--is born. In the rites which celebrate this enjoyment of the sea, as a symbol of her birth a lump of salt and the phallus (φαλλός) [112] are handed to those who are initiated into the art of uncleanness. [113]


In a much later text, Arnobius describes a similar belief regarding the galli of Venus: "And those hidden mysteries of Cyprian Venus we pass by also, of whom the founder is said to have been King Cinyras, in which those who take them bring stipulated fees as to a harlot and carry away obscene tokens (phallos), given them as a sign of the propitious divinity."[114]  While neither of these texts explicitly states the use of these phalli by women on the men, nor do they state that the phalli are used in the rituals at all, the associations of the phalli in the context of the rituals, especially when compared with the rites of the gala/kalu, are certainly indicative of such practices. 


III. Conclusion

            That Paul would have been familiar with the goddess religions seems inescapable.  Temples and shrines to Cybele, Artemis, Venus/Aphrodite, Astarte, and others were scattered densely around the region of Paul's upbringing and missionary travels (Asia Minor, Greece, Cyprus, etc.).[115]  In Corinth, where Paul most likely wrote Romans,[116] several gender/sexual-variant artifacts have been found.  The anti-Christian riot at Ephesus (Acts 19) was important enough to be preserved in the canon, and evidence suggests that other conflicts between the goddess cults and early Christian groups occurred.  Roscoe goes as far as saying, "In some cities, worshipers clashed in the streets when the festivals of the two religions coincided, as they often did in the spring."[117]  This should not be surprising, given the popularity and influence of the goddess religions on the Greek and Roman cultures.  Roller notes the extent of the galli's presence in Rome:

In contrast, the evidence suggests that eunuch priests were a common sight in Rome.  The prominence of these priests in Roman society may have resulted from the secure position given to eunuchs by the Magna Mater cult.  Such a protected status could have caused their number to multiply, as the priesthood proved a magnet for transsexuals, transvestites, and others who found themselves on the margins of society.  ... This may well have caused their numbers to grow to the point where they became quite a conspicuous part of the social scene. [118]

Given the spread of castration rituals into the Christian community, potentially linked directly to the goddess cults, it seems theologically there would be heavy internal interest in discrediting goddess beliefs and practices, in addition to the political and social clashes.[119]

            The cumulative evidence suggests that Paul’s context for the entire pericope of Rom 1:18-32 is idolatry, and that Rom 1:26-27 is a reference to the gender and sex-variant practices of the goddess cults.  Further, considering that at least four sources from the early church imply or state that 1:26b is a reference to heterogenitality, it seems that the tradition linking this verse to “lesbians” is dubious, thus problematizing the idea that in 1:26-27, Paul is describing the “category of homosexuality.”  There is little reason to believe that Paul's intent in this passage is anything but an exhortation against the worship of non-Yahwist gods, and even less basis to infer the general content of Paul's beliefs about sexual orientations, specifically the use of this passage as a condemnation of contemporary queer relationships.  This current essay seeks to unify the entire passage under Paul’s single purpose of condemning idolatry, and further situating the “sex” references within early Christianity’s socio-religious context, thus clarifying some of the continued exegetical problems that have surrounded this text.


[1] When referring to Greco-Roman sexualities I typically will refer to behavior, since it is doubtful there was a “gay/straight” identity dichotomy in the contemporary sense, thus the use of the terms “heterogenital” and “homogenital.” See Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 17-26; Eva Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World (trans. Cormac Cuilleanáin; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), here 211-222; David Halperin, How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 48-55; Gerard Loughlin, “Pauline Conversations: Rereading Romans 1 in Christ,” Theology and Sexuality 11(2004): 72-102, here 86; Martti Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), 109; Diana Swancutt, “The Disease of Effemination,” in New Testament Masculinities, (ed. Stephen Moore and Janice Anderson; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003), 193-235, here 194-195;  Johannes Vorster, “The Making of Male Same-Sex in the Graeco-Roman World and its Implications for the Interpretation of Biblical Discourses,” Scriptura 93 (2006): 432-454; Craig Williams, Roman Homosexuality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 249-51.

[2] Phillip Bernhardt-House, “Reenforcing [sic] Binaries, Downgrading Passions: Bisexual Invisibility in Mainstream Queer Christian Theology,” Journal of Bisexuality 10 (2010): 54-63; Adam Green, “Queer Theory and Sociology,” Sociological Theory 25 (2007): 26-45;  Dale Martin, Sex and the Single Savior (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 51-64; Jeremy Punt, “Intersections in Queer Theory and Postcolonial Theory, and Hermeneutical Spin-Offs,” The Bible and Critical Theory 4 (2008): 24.1-24.16.

[3] Young’s Literal Translation, n.p. [cited 5 May, 2010]. Online:  The Greek is from The Greek New Testament, 4th edition, ed. Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo Martini, Bruce Metzger, and Allen Wikgren (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1993).

[4] “Not until John Chrysostom (ca. 400 C.E.) does anyone (mis)interpret Romans 1:26 as referring to relations between two women” (Tom Hanks, The Subversive Gospel (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2000), 90).  Swancutt cites Ambrosiaster as a slightly earlier reference to Rom 1:26 as female homogenitality, but in the end rejects Brooten’s analysis that Paul intended to refer to female homogenitality (Diana Swancutt, “Disease of Effemination,” 208-209).  See also Matthew Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 383.

[5] Clement uses multiple words and phrases for “lusts” in chapter 10, for example: κατακόρως γάρ τοι περὶ τὰς μίξεις τὰ ζῷα ταῦτα ἐπτόηνται, 83.4; λαγνίστατον, 85.3; ὑπερβάλλοντα πασχητιασμόν, 86.1; Otto Stahlin, Clemens Alexandrinus, Protrepticus und Paedagogus (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1905), here 208-210.

[6] Paraphrased translation mine, from Stahlin, Clemens, 210: “Ἐντεῦθεν συμφανὲς ἡμῖν ὁμολογουμένως παραιτεῖσθαι δεῖν τὰς ἀρρενομιξίας καὶ τὰς ἀκάρπους σπορὰς καὶ τὰς κατόπιν εὐνὰς καὶ τὰς ἀσυμφυεῖς ἀνδρογύνους κοινωνίας, ἑπομένους τῇ φύσει αὐτῇ ἀπαγορευούσῃ διὰ τῆς τῶν μορίων κατασκευῆς, οὐκ εἰς παραδοχὴν σπέρματος, εἰς δὲ τὴν πρόεσιν αὐτοῦ τὸ ἄρρεν ἀνδρωσάσῃ. Ὁ δὲ Ἱερεμίας ὁπηνίκα ἂν φῇ, τοῦτ´ ἔστι δι´ αὐτοῦ τὸ πνεῦμα, «σπήλαιον ὑαίνης γέγονεν ὁ οἶκός μου», τὴν ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν σωμάτων μυσαττόμενος τροφὴν ἀλληγορίᾳ σοφῇ τὴν εἰδωλολατρείαν διαβέβληκε·”

[7] In Brooten, Love, 337.  The full reference, from Stahlin, Clemens, 331 is, “αἵ τε γαρ θήλειαι οὐκ ἀλλήλας βαίνονσαι δηλαδή, ἀλλά τοῖς ἀνδράσιν οὕτω παρέχουσαι ἑαυτάς. οὕτως ’Αναστάσιος ἐν τῷ εἰς τὴν πρὸς Κορινθίους ἐξηγητικῷ.”

[8] Augustine, Marriage and Desire 20.35 (trans. Roland Teske; ed. John E Rotelle; Answer to the Pelagians, II; New York: New City Press, 1990), 75-76.

[9] Didymus, Commentary on Zechariah (trans. Robert Hill; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006).

[10] Ibid, 262.  The original Greek is from Louis Doutreleau, Sur Zacharie 4.52.8 (Sources Chretiennes 85; vol 3; Didyme L’Aveugle, Sur Zacharie [Paris: Du Cerf, 1962], here 828):  “κατ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἐπιμαινόμενοι, ἀρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν κατεργαζόμενοι τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην, ἀλλὰ καὶ αἱ θήλειαι αὐτῶν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας ἐάσασαι παρὰ φύσιν καὶ πάσχουσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ γυναῖκες ἐν γυναιξὶν πορνικῶς ἐπιμαίνονται.”


[11] Jamie Banister, “ὁμοιως and the Use of Parallelism in Romans 1:26-27,” JBL 128 (2009): 569-590, here 572 fn. 4.  Brooten, Love, 247; Roy Ward “Why unnatural? The Tradition Behind Romans 1:26-27,” HTR 90 (1997): 263-284, here 271-273; James DeYoung, “The Meaning of Nature in Romans 1 and its Implications for Biblical Proscriptions of Homosexual Behavior,” JETS 31 (1988): 429-41; Martin, Sex, 54-57; James Miller, ‘The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual,” NovT 37 (1995): 1-11, here 8-10.

[12] Ward, “Why Unnatural,” 271

[13] Brooten, Love; DeYoung, “Meaning of Nature”; David Fredrickson, “Natural and Unnatural use in Romans 1:24-27,” in Homosexuality, Science and the “Plain Sense” of Scripture (ed. David Balch; Grand Rapids : Eerdman’s Publishing, 2000), 197-222; Ward, “Why Unnatural.” 

[14] Fredrickson, “Unnatural Use,” 201, here referring to Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom.  Fredrickson argues that “use” refers to inordinate sexual desire within marriage, not idolatry.

[15] John McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 41-42; John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 109-110; Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 109.

[16] Bernhart-House, “Reenforcing.”  McNeill, Boswell and Nissinen all assume 1:26b refers to female homogenitality, and they argue that case, but it does not seem that their larger perspective requires it, since, if their point is that παρὰ φύσιν refers to heterosexual males engaging in homosexual behaviors in 1:27, the case could also be made for females who do the same in 1:26b.

[17] Stephen Moore, God’s Beauty Parlor (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 140-142; Diana Swancutt, “Still Before Sexuality,” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses (ed. Todd Penner and Caroline Stichele; Leiden: Brill, 2007):11-62.

[18] Swancutt, “Still Before Sexuality,” 25-26.

[19] Jamie Banister, “ὁμοιως,” 589.

[20] Ibid., 588-589.

[21] Swancutt, “Disease of Effemination,” 207-208.

[22] Peter Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 18-19.

[23] Bradley Artson, “Judaism and Homosexuality,” Tikkun 3 (1988): 52-54, 92-93.  Michael Satlow, “‘They Abused Him Like a Woman’: Homoeroticism, Gender Blurring and the Rabbis in late Antiquity,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 5 (1994): 1-25, here especially 15-17.

[24] Brooten, Love, 240.

[25] Robert Jewett, Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 176.

[26] TLG-E (2000) produced 26 results from a search of “θηλε αὐτῶν.”  Fifteen of these are quotes from or commentaries on Romans.  Only one of these differs enough from the received text to merit analysis in this context, and this passage, from Didymus’, Commentary on Zechariah, is described above.  The rest are found in treatises on animals, where the phrase refers to the females of the species. Six of these are in Aristotle, who, like Paul, mentions the females first, followed by the males, although I make no claim that Paul here makes direct use of Aristotle.  .

[27] Jewett, Romans, 177.

[28] Gwen Sayler, “Beyond the Biblical Impasse,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 44 (2005): 81-89, here 84. 

[29] Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 113.

[30] Moo, Romans, 113; Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 106.

[31] Brooten addresses this, and assumes the women here are engaged in female homogenitality (Love, 305-314).  However, she admits this is clear only in the Greek fragment, a reworking the earlier Ethiopic fragment, which is quoted here.

[32] Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha  (vol. 2; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964), here 676-77, 2003, Ethiopic fragment.

[33] Several historical interpretations of παρέδωκεν have been highlighted by Gaventa.  First, that God abandons humans to our own activities.  Second, that God allows the natural course of events to occur from the behavior initiated by the Gentiles--God didn't "cause" them to have the "sinful desires" (1:24), "shameful lusts" (1:26a) or "depraved mind" (1:28), but when the Gentiles abandoned God, God stepped back and allowed the natural course of events to happen.  Third, that God hands humans over to judgment.  Gaventa contextualizes Romans as an apocalyptic letter, and παρέδωκεν refers to God surrendering humanity to The Enemy, to sin, as a final step in a war.  Beverly Gaventa, “God Handed Them Over: Reading Romans 1:18-32 Apocalytpically,” Australian Biblical Review 53 (2005): 42-53.  For a similar, if brief rendering, see Johann Kim, “Romans 1:28-32,” Int 58 (2004): 396-398.

[34] Ernst Käsemann and Geoffrey Bromiley, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdman’s, 1980), 37-38;  Moo, Romans, 58-60; Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 106.

[35] Levison, as do many others, emphasize Paul’s theological grounding of Rom 1:18-25 in the creation text of Genesis 1-3.   Levison specifically highlights the first two uses of μετ/ήλλαξαν in order to demonstrate the relationship between this text and the Jewish text “Life of Adam and Eve.”  Through this we see the similarities between Paul and other creation/fall texts of the era, especially in how Paul draws the reader back to an inversion of God’s original plan:  exchanging God’s glory for mortality and death, and exchanging dominion over animals for subservience to animals, referring to idolatry vis-à-vis worshipping the images of animals.  It is curious that Levison’s goes to great lengths to emphasize the first two repetitions of μετ/ήλλαξαν in 1:23, 25, but fails to even mention the third use of μετήλλαξαν in 1:28.  This may reflect the historic difficulty understanding the deeper unity of Rom 1:18-32 of this passage, since, unless the entire pericope is understood as a unified attack against idolatry, the inherent parallels and story may otherwise seem disjointed (John Levison, “Adam and Eve in Romans 1.18-25 and the Greek Life of Adam and Eve,” New Testament Studies 50 (2004): 519-534).

[36] DeYoung, “Meaning of Nature,” 166

[37] The use of ‘sin lists’ was common in Paul and other early church writers.  Käsemann and Bromiley, Romans, 49-50.

[38] Käsemann and Bromiley, Romans, 49.  William Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1941), 176.

[39] Chamberlain, Grammar, 106.

[40] Swancutt, “Disease of Effemination,” 207.

[41] Robert Turcan, The Cults of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996), 28; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 15.

[42] Eugene Lane, ed., Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M. J. Vermaseren (New York: E.J. Brill, 1996), 101; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 20.

[43] Giulia Gasparro, Soteriology and Mystic Aspects in the Cult of Cybele and Attis (Leiden: E, J, Brill, 1985), 64; Luther Martin, Hellenistic Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 83; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 32.

[44] Stehle, "Venus," 153; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 41

[45] Livy, The History of Rome, XXIX.10 (vol. 3; trans. George Baker; Livy; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836), 317; Ovid, Fasti, IV.179-372 (trans. A.J. Boyle and R.D. Woodard; The Fasti; New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000), 87-92.

[46] Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 39 and 177.

[47] Deborah Sawyer, Women and Religion in the First Christian Centuries (New York: Routledge, 1996), 119.

[48] Turcan, Cults, 37; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 41.

[49] Timothy Pettipiece, “From Cybele to Christ: Christianity and the Transformation of Late Roman Religious Culture,” SR 37 (2008): 41-61.

[50] Lane, Cybele, 37.

[51] Tom Horner, Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 100.

[52] Strabo, Geography, 8.6.20 (trans. H.L. Jones; The Geography of Strabo v. 4; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924).

[53] Eva Stehle, “Venus Cybele and the Sabine Women: The Roman Construction of Female Sexuality,” Helios 16 (1989): 143-164, here 143.

[54] Randy Conner, Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 102.

[55] Maarten Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 96.

[56] Lynn Roller, In Search of God the Mother: The Cult of Anatolian Cybele (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999), 315-16.

[57] Gasparro, Soteriology, 40; David Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 98; Catherine Kroeger, “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women,” JETS 30 (1987): 25-38, here 37; Carl Olson, ed., The Book of the Goddess Past and Present (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 60; William Tyrrell, Amazons: A Study in Athenian Mythmaking (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1984), 86.

[58] Apuleius, The Golden Ass (trans. Robert Graves; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951), 264-265.

[59] Macrobius, Saturnalia, 3.8.2-3 (trans. Percival Davies; The Saturnalia; New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 214.

[60] Richard and Catherine Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), here 188; Turcan, Cults, 28; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 30.

[61] Kroeger, “Apostle Paul,” 37; Will Roscoe, “Priests of the Goddess: Gender Transgression in Ancient Religion,” HR 35 (1996): 195-230, here 217; Tyrell, Amazons, 86.

[62] Roscoe, “Priests,” 213.

[63] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 33; Roscoe, “Priests,” 214.

[64] Ibid., 219.

[65] Greenberg, Construction, 97.

[66] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 30.

[67] Philippe Borgeaud, Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary (trans, Lysa Hochroth; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 48.

[68] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 31; Winton Thomas, “Kelebh 'Dog': Its Origin and Some Usages of it in the Old Testament,” VT 10 (1960): 410-427, here 426

[69] Meir Malul, “Ytha Sya (Leviticus 16:21): A Marginal Person,” JBL 128 (2009): 437-42; Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 30.

[70] Roscoe, “Priests,” 217.

[71] Greenberg, Construction, 106; Donald Wold, Out of Order (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 60.

[72] Martin, Hellenistic, 84.

[73] Conner, Blossom, 102.

[74] Grant Showerman, The Great Mother of the Gods (Chicago: Argonaut Publishers 1901), 51.

[75] Roscoe, “Priests,” 201.

[76] Greenberg, Construction, 98; Kroeger, I Suffer Not, 94; Turcan, Cults, 37-41; Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 97.

[77] Firmicus Maternus, The Error of Pagan Religions, 4.2 (trans. Clarence Forbes; Firmicus Maternus; New York: Newman Press, 1970), 50-51.

[78] Augustine, City of God, 6.7 (ed. R.W. Dyson, The City of God Against the Pagans; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 254.

[79] See also Catullus 63 (trans. C.H. Sisson; The Poetry of Catullus; New York: Orion Press, 1967), 103-106; Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos 2.14 and Paedagogos 3.4, (vol. II; ed. Alexander Roberts, and James Donaldson; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo: Christian Literature Publishing, 1885); Juvenal, Satire, 6.315-375 (trans. Rolfe Humphries; The Satires of Juvenal; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 75; Lucian, De Dea Syria, 50-5 (trans Herbert Strong; The Syrian Goddess; London: BiblioBazaar, 2007) ; Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, 2.600-680 (trans. W.E. Leonard; On the Nature of Things; New York: Dover Publications, 2004), 52.

[80] Roller, God the Mother, 318.

[81] See also Catullus 63; Juvenal, Satire, 6.500.

[82] Lucian, De Dea Syria, 51, here 61. 

[83] Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, 2.600-680, here 52.

[84] Jesse Weston From Ritual to Romance (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1997), 158.

[85] Kroeger, I Suffer Not, 165-66.

[86] Richard Valantasis, The Gospel of Thomas (New York: Routledge, 1997), 96.

[87] Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, Book V.2 (vol. V; ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; Ante-Nicene Fathers; New York: Scribner’s, 1903), 49-50.

[88] David Hester, “Eunuchs and the Postgender Jesus,” JSNT 28 (2005): 13-40, here 30-36; Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 245ff.

[89] Greenberg, Construction, 99.

[90] Coincidentally, many of the gallic practices described in the early Greco-Roman texts are seen today in the Hijra, including castration, ostentatiously “effeminate” behaviors and dress, the public belief that Hijra and devadasi can bless and curse, the stigmatized nature of Hijra and devadasi, and the sexual use of these stigmatized individuals under the auspices of sacred sex practices.  Moni Nag, “Anthropological Perspectives on Prostitution and AIDS in India,” Economic and Political Weekly 36 (2001): 4025-4030; John O’Neil and Treena Orchard, RC Swarankar, James Blanchard, Kaveri Gurav, Stephen Moses Dhandha, “Dharma and Disease: Traditional Sex Work and HIV/AIDS in Rural India,” Social Science and Medicine 59 (2004): 851-860; Gayatri Reddy, With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005);  Karuna Sharma, “The Social World of Prostitutes and Devadasis,” Journal of International Women’s Studies 9 (2007): 297-310.

[91] Conner, Blossom, 116.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Sawyer, Women and Religion, 125.

[94] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 33; Roscoe, “Priests,” 214.

[95] See Clement of Alexandria, Protreptikos, 2.14; Firmicus, The Error of Pagan Religions, 4.2; Martial, Epigrams, 3.81 (vol 1; ed. and trans. D.R. Bailey; Martial Epigrams; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

[96] Apuleius, Golden Ass, 188-89.

[97] Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 109.

[98] Sawyer, Women and Religion, 125.

[99] Showerman, Great Mother, 54.

[100] Roller, God the Mother, 232.

[101] Conner, Blossom, 91.

[102]  Stehle, “Venus,” 152.

[103] Strabo, Geography, 8.6.20.

[104] Tyrell, Amazons, 86.

[105] Stahlin, Clemens, 253: “Αἳ δὲ ἀνδρογύνων συνουσίαις ἥδονται, παρεισρέουσι δὲ ἔνδον κιναίδων ὄχλοι ἀθυρόγλωσσοι.”

[106] Clement, Paedagogos, 3.4, 278.

[107] Or cinaedi in Latin.  Williams cites several ancient writers who refer to galli as cinaedi.  Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 194-197. 

[108] Martial, Epigrams, 3.81, here 259: “What concern have you, eunuch Baeticus, with the feminine abyss? This tongue of yours should be licking male middles.  Why was your cock cut off with a Samian shard if you were so fond of cunt, Baeticus?  Your head should be castrated.  You may be a eunuch loinwise, but you cheat Cybele’s rites.  With your mouth you’re a man.”

[109] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 108.

[110] Using the Latin, based on Williams' treatment of the subject, Roman Homosexuality, 202.

[111] Conner, Blossom, 96.

[112] Stahlin, Clemens, 12.

[113] Clement, Protreptikos 2.14, here 175.

[114] Arnobius, The Case Against the Pagans, 5.19 (trans. George McCracken; Arnobius of Sicca v2; New York: Newman Press, 1949), 427. The Latin “phallos” is from August Riefferscheid, Arnobii Adversvs Nationes vol. VII (CSEL, vol. IV; Vindobonae: Apvd C. Geroldi Filivm, 1875, here 190.

[115] Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis, 37.  For an exhaustive description of the extant artifacts representing Cybele and Attis, see Maarten Vermaseren, Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (Leiden: EJ Brill, 1966-1986).

[116] Nissinen, Homoeroticism, 110; Jewett, Romans, 18.

[117] Roscoe, “Priests,” 205.

[118] Roller, God the Mother, 319.

[119] Hester, Eunuchs, 30-36; Kuefler Manly Eunuch, 264.